8 tips to finding a good marriage counselor in Washington DC

November 2, 2015
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Marriage counseling and couples therapy can be extremely helpful in improving a marriage or a relationship. How do you find a good marriage counselor in Washington, DC.? How do you wend your way through the morass of clinicians to find someone who can help you?

Take heart, you can find a talented marriage counselor in Washington, DC. Consider following these steps:

1. Choose a marriage counselor or couples therapist with specialized training and experience in working with couples.

Surprisingly, this is easier said than done. Most marriage counselors and couples therapists have had no specialized training in marriage counseling. Rather, they have focused primarily on working with individuals. While there is some overlap, marriage counselors need a different skill set than individual therapists.

Marriage counselors come from an array of academic backgrounds including, psychology, counseling, psychiatry, social work, nursing, psychoanalysis, pastoral care and others. Yet, the academic discipline is not the most important consideration in choosing a marriage counselor or couples therapist.

Irrespective of mental health discipline, because marriage counselors and couples therapists need a different skill set than those who treat individuals, it’s important to ask whether the counselor has had specialized training in couples therapy.

Currently, in most states any licensed clinician can provide marriage and couples therapy without any formal training or supervision to do so.

Therefore, you need to ask your prospective couples or marriage counselor, “have you had any specialized training in working with couples? Would you please describe it?”

Virtually all clinical programs have a mandatory course in marriage and family therapy. In these courses, students learn about couples theory and couples therapy. However, this is not an adequate preparation to provide couples therapy.

And you’ll want to seek out a clinician with more than just a few hours of continuing education in this area. Specifically, your marriage counselor or couples therapist should tell you that they entered into an intensive couples and family therapy training program. Ask what the program entailed.  Ideally, the couples therapist will tell you that the program spanned a year or two and entailed weekly readings, coursework and group supervision.  And, most importantly, that they received weekly, individual, one-on-one, supervision from an experienced, marriage counselor or couples therapist. If the marriage counselor or couples therapist is self-taught or workshop trained, consider seeking out someone with more formal training.

2. Choose a marriage counselor or couples therapist who is NOT already treating a member of your family, individually.

It seems like a no-brainer. You, or your significant other, is in individual therapy with a psychologist who you find helpful. So, why not consult him for your marriage therapy? The problem is your psychologist has an inherent conflict of interest when it comes to providing you with marriage counseling.

The task of your individual therapist should be to understand you, to help you to become more self-aware, and to explore your unique motivations and feelings. This will allow you to clarify your own wishes and goals. Your therapist’s goal is to be objective, non-judgmental and confidential. Fundamentally, he or she should have YOUR best interests at heart.

In contrast, your marriage counselor’s paramount concern is the welfare of the RELATIONSHIP. Because what is optimal for one member of a couple is not always optimal for the other, your marriage counselor or couples therapist should not be treating you, or your significant other, individually. If your therapist offers to do so, warning bells should go off in your head.

3. Choose a marriage counselor who can create a safe environment in which you and your spouse, or significant other, listen to each other. The couples therapist should be able to listen, to interrupt, to confront and to protect.

When, inevitably, tensions rise in couples therapy, the counselor should work to create an atmosphere in which couples listen to each other. This means, at times, stopping a raging partner so that both partners can listen to each other. It means helping spouses to establish boundaries. While this is easier with some couples than with others if a marriage counselor consistently can not take charge of the consulting room this can be problematic for the marriage therapy. Find someone who can be firm, in a caring way, when necessary.

4. Seek a marriage counselor or couples therapist who is even-handed and doesn’t play favorites.

All good marriage therapists have to take sides from time to time. Find a good marriage counselor or couples therapist who is consistently on the side of the health of the relationship. Physical abuse is never O.K. no matter what the reason. And, uncontrolled screaming rages or running out of the room in the middle of sessions, if unaddressed, can be destructive to the work. So, find a good marriage counselor or couples therapist who can set appropriate boundaries on this behavior and try to understand it. However, if your marriage counselor or couples therapist consistently appears to side with one member of the couple, ask about it so that the three of you can try to understand what’s going on. If this is an ongoing dynamic, it could get in the way of getting the marital help that you need.

5. Find a good marriage counselor or couples therapist whose aim is to help you to understand yourselves and each other, past, present and future.

Although some couples wish that they could improve their relationship without examining it, there are no magic elixirs. “Those who do not understand the past are doomed to repeat it”. Ideally, your marriage counselor or couples therapist will focus on what’s happening now, what happened in the relationship, historically, and your hopes for the future. A neglect of any of these areas is likely to yield a less than comprehensive result.

6. A couple’s therapist should help you to think about and address sex and physical intimacy in your relationship.

Ideally, you should bring this up. But, if you don’t talk about it, your counselor should address it. Not only is what goes on in the bedroom vitally important for the health of any relationship, often, it’s emblematic of strengths and challenges outside of the bedroom. For example, often, the individual that doesn’t pay attention to their partner’s needs in the bedroom is inattentive in other areas.

7. A marriage counselor should ask about how finances are handled in the marriage.

Research shows that more couples break up over financial conflicts than sexual ones. Like sex, a couples relationship with money is often emblematic of other marital difficulties. For example, it can be related to concerns around trust and worthiness.

8. Assess whether marriage counseling or couples therapy is really what you need

You can find a capable marriage counselor in Washington, DC. However, it is important to assess whether marriage counseling is, in fact, the best treatment modality for you at this time. At times, for some people individual psychotherapy might be more useful, initially.  If you are uncertain, seek a consultation with an individual psychotherapist or ask your couples counselor for guidance. Marriage counseling or couples therapy ALWAYS works best when each individual is able to examine their role in the relationship difficulties. So consider whether you could benefit from, individual therapy, couples therapy or both (and, if both are optimal they should, of course, be conducted by two different clinicians).

Find a good marriage counselor or couples therapist

As you search for and begin to assess your marriage counselor or couples therapist, keep these eight points in mind. And, good luck, there’s some very good marriage counseling and couples therapy out there and with a little persistence you can find it!

If you are interested in a consultation, for individual or couples therapy, feel free to call me at: 301.656.9650. Please streamline this process by making it easy for me to reach you. Leave your day and evening numbers and the time that it’s best to reach you. I welcome your call.

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